Dr. Ferdinand Peter Herff, November 1912
Peter is no stranger to death. Still, he finds himself unprepared for the passing of his grandfather, the first Dr. Ferdinand Herff to practice medicine in San Antonio.
His grandfather lies in state in the house on Houston Street, the home where the whole family has gathered every Friday night since before Peter emerged from his mother’s womb.
Approaching the coffin brings a smile to the doctor’s face. His grandmother arranged for her husband to be buried in his cape. He first wore the cape years earlier out of necessity after breaking an arm. Following recovery, Papa Herff decided the cape made him appear dashing so continued to sport it about town.
Peter’s remaining grandfather and Papa Herff’s closest friend, Frederick Kalteyer, reminiscences with Mr. Koehler. Funerals bring the opportunity to dust off all the well-worn stories about colorful people, and Papa Kalteyer retells one of the most oft-repeated ones about his grandfather—Geronimo’s request to meet the doctor while the Chief was held in captivity at Fort Sam Houston.
“The Apache’s squaw wanted to see the man who had operated on her more than 30 years earlier—‘see’ being the most important part of the story,” Papa Kalteyer explains to Mr. Koehler, as though he were unfamiliar with the legendary tale. “Ferdinand had removed cataracts from her eyes, and she remained eternally grateful. Geronimo wanted to pay his respects to a man capable of what was then—and still is—an almost miraculous medical feat.”
Mr. Koehler draws Peter aside, “His was a big shadow to live under. It took many years for your father to establish his reputation as an equally fine doctor. I assume you now, in turn, must be struggling to convince people that yet another generation of the Doctors Herff knows his way around the operating table.”
“My father tries to refer some of his old, and many of the new, patients who walk into his office to me, but they tend to regard me as too young. I am so eager to build my client basis that I venture into almost any sector of the city, day or night.”
“Your grandfather had great respect for both your father’s and your medical capabilities. In fact, he was singing high praises of you only last week at the Casino Club. A large number of my workers at the brewery are either pleading illness or injury the majority of the time. I’ll direct some of that business your way.”
“I would be ever so grateful, sir.”
Mr. Koehler turns back to Papa Kalteyer with his inexhaustible stock of anecdotes about his old friend to share with all who enter the parlor. “He should have run for Congress. He always refused. Claimed his English was too poor for campaigning. Ferdinand believed people would have howled with laughter during speeches, thinking his mispronunciation comedic.”
“He was wrong,” states Mr. Koehler. “He would have been elected.”
The anecdotes about Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig Herff (1820-1912) were repeated often in the papers, particularly at the time of his death. And Frederick Kalteyer was Papa Herff’s best friend as well as Peter’s other grandfather. Otto Koehler surely would have attended his funeral. But the old Dr. Herff actually died in May of 1912, before the Author was ready for him to depart.
In The Doctors Herff: A Three-Generation Memoir, Dr. Peter Herff related venturing into the seedier side of town to obtain patients when he first started his practice.